Planning High School Tennis Practices

One of the keys to running enjoyable, effective practices is planning.

As with any other activity that requires discipline, tennis practices should have some type of consistency built in to allow your players to quickly get into a groove.

While every practice should be somewhat different, the format of your practices can remain the same from day to day, providing not only consistency, but following sound principles, as well.

Below is a model practice plan that you can use to make your practices flow smoothly from day to day.

Pre-practice Housekeeping
Discuss any information regarding forms, cancelled practices, etc.

Offcourt Warmup and Stretch
Start your practices with light calisthenics or other physical activity that is designed specifically for tennis. This activity should raise the heart and respiratory rates. Make sure players use all body parts, getting a good full range of motion workout. Players should not be lunging or running hard for balls at this point. The goal is to get the blood circulating to the muscles and gets players’ strokes warmed up for the more demanding drills to follow.

After several minutes of hitting, players should then go to through a dynamic stretching routine — not static stretches. Stretch-and-hold stretches are good after workouts, but decrease power and vertical leap for up to 20 minutes, so save these for after practices. Mirror the movements of tennis with quick lunges, racquet swings, jumping jacks, skipping with high knees and other quick movements.

Oncourt Warmup
The warm up can consist of light hitting, progressing with mini-tennis to full-court stroking. Mini-tennis is an excellent warm-up, used by pro players around the world. Make sure players warm up all strokes that will be used in practice that day.

Practice Previously-Learned Skills
Review what you worked on in the previous practice, taking into account that players must first get back into a groove with the new skill, then work on using it in live-ball drilling, progressing with cooperative hitting, then moving toward competitive drills. If players have individual goals, set up different courts for different skills, and assign players to courts accordingly, rather than simply putting the #1 player on court with the #2 player, etc.

Teach and Practice New Skills
Now that players are warmed up and have done some drilling, working on new skills will occur in a more productive environment. Depending on what time (phase) of your season you’re in, you may be working on stroke, shot or matchplay skills. You may decide to forego new skill work if you are concentrating on a skill (such as the serve) that you wish to work on all week. Adjusting the skill or using it in different ways may be appropriate at this stage.

Competitive Drilling
After players have warmed up, stretched, worked on old and new skills and have had a productive session working on stroke and shot skills, it’s time to work on their match-play skills. Live-ball drilling with points and realistic target areas are the bet methods for players to experience what they will face during a match and spot weaknesses during practice. If you don’t practice like you play, you will play like you practice.

Practice Under Matchplay Conditions
Whether it’s tie-breaks, pro sets, handicapped sets (second serves only, players must hit groundstrokes beyond service line) or drills with points, ending practice with match play allows players to work on mental as well as stroke and shot skills. Be careful that match play is structured and monitored. It is a fact of motor learning that once winning becomes a goal, that goal overrides a player’s desire to use a new grip, footwork of other tactic. Make sure that players understand that, especially early on in the season, match play is intended to help a player work on new skills in a realistic situation to see where it breaks down.

If you begin challenge matches early in the season or keep track of won/loss records, players will abandon what they are working on to win.

This is where your sprints, plyometrics, footwork and other conditioning activities take place. Jump ropes, medicine balls, ab rollers etc. are used during this time. Make sure you set up a team training program at the beginning of the year to help players improve speed, agility, power, etc.

Cool Down
Players should never stop drilling, pack their bags and go home. Always end practice with some type of cooldown that gradually lowers the heart rate, including stretching. If a player needs to leave practice early, do not have them sacrifice the conditioning and cooldown portions of practice; have them drop out of drilling early.

Depending on your area’s temperature, how hard you drilled and conditioned, a cooldown is important to allow players’ bodies to cope with the stress of practice. Build in a period of light activity, such as walking, jogging or stretching.

Post-practice Review and Questions

Following a consistent practice schedule will keep your practices organized and your players progressing.

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